“No crowds until after her 2 month vaccinations.”
We had already missed Christmas. Josie nursed in the tiny hospital room beneath the glow of fluorescent lights instead of cheerful twinkling ones while I listened on speakerphone to my bigs tearing into presents from Santa. I closed my eyes to see their faces, and I couldn’t help but cry a little.
Thankfully, I had started listening to Christmas music on November 1st. I decorated the house before a single snowflake fell. All the gifts were wrapped and ready weeks in advance. I filled up on Christmas early just in case.
My tank was full by the time Josie made her appearance on the 23rd, and it sustained me in the dull hospital room. That and the very real gift swaddled in my arms. My littlest girl snuggled against my chest, here at last and healthy after months of ultrasounds and uncertainty. Her eyes locked on mine as if to say, “We got this, mom.” We did.
Two months inside to protect her? Whatever it takes.
I was optimistic and drunk on gratitude for her every breath, for her minute fingernails, for her second toe that is longer than the rest. My protective instinct was on overdrive with this one. I forgot that play dates and mom groups had saved me with my other three. I forgot how much I needed fresh air to marinate my insides, so I could feel alive and whole and part of something.
You ok? My husband asked.
Yeah. Yep. Just tired.
Winter break ended. Days began with “have a good day” in doorways and ended with “wash your hands” and hugs. I rotated through nursing tanks and black yoga pants. My contacts stayed in their case.
Yeah. I think so.
I had never had a winter baby, born in the middle of cold and flu season, a germaphobe’s nightmare. Terrifying flu headlines and worst case scenarios ran on repeat in my mind. The pressure to protect my girl weighed heavy.
Morning, noon, night–the sky remained a constant gray. The trees around the house were naked and raw making spindly, crooked silhouettes against the blackout blinds in my bedroom.
While the rest of my family lived–school, practice, play dates and games–I got to know Scandal’s Olivia Pope. I binged on HGTV. I asked my husband if we could buy a fixer upper and hire a contractor to make it our dream home. I painted a dresser. I checked Facebook to watch peoples’ “real” lives happen. I learned to put nutmeg in cream sauces from the Food Network. We don’t eat cream sauces.
I had forgotten the ache of breastfeeding, the heaviness in my chest that settled there until my body adjusted. I winced when Noah, Chloe and Sylvie curled into me because my engorged breasts were on fire.
I spontaneously leaked from everywhere-my eyes, my breasts, other places into a diaper-sized pad.
My hair lay limp against my head. Deep eye circles marked my face. I tucked my new muffin top into my pants and my cumbersome breasts into my top. Lycra was the only thing holding me together.
I’m not sure.
I tried to sweat out my growing melancholy with my fitness favorites. It worked sometimes or for a while. I told myself to snap out of it. Get a grip, I whispered. She was here. That’s supposed to be enough. Her growing eyelashes, her double chin, her sideways smile. I loved every inch of her but lately not an inch of me.
With each gray day I felt more and more that I was watching my life happen through a fogged window. I forced myself to engage. I coached myself through. My self-talk tried different tones.
I passed my 6-week postpartum survey because there were plenty of moments I smiled. Enough good to hold onto to keep me afloat. Enough “I’m doing well considering” considerings.
And then without warning the sun emerged from behind the clouds. Darkness didn’t saturate the house so soon. We had a dance party in the kitchen, and I realized when it was over that I was there, really there scooping up the kids and spinning until I was dizzy. I laughed spontaneously and fully. I meant it.
Before that moment, I was afraid that gray was my new reality.
The promise of spring buzzed around me like static electricity. And I knew, inhaling this moment, it wouldn’t be long now.